Graham Wilson aims to carry on where he left off in Scottish rugby cup finals when his Heriot’s outfit tackle Glasgow Hawks in three weeks.
Heriot’s booked their place with a tense 20-16 victory at Aberdeen Grammar and memories immediately came flooding back for scrum half Wilson who secured Heriot’s previous cup title, over Melrose back in 2009, with a 35 metre angled penalty in the 79th minute.
Since then, he believes, Heriot’s have matured into an especially potent force up front.
“This is my tenth season with Heriot’s and I honestly believe we have the best pack of forwards I have played behind in that time,” said Wilson, who was watched by dad, Duncan, a former Scotland B stand-off.
Pack power from Heriot’s was certainly evident at atmospheric Rubislaw where the home crowd nevertheless came close to inspiring their side to a late triumph after a bruising encounter in which both sets of forwards often stood toe-to-toe.
Wilson, who slotted conversions of tries by second rows Murray Douglas and Ben Toolis as well as notching a brace of early penalties, added: “Ben joined us a few weeks ago (on release from Edinburgh where he is an elite development prospect) and is such a big physical specimen I always try to find him with a pass whenever we are close to the opposition line.”
Both tries fro Heriot’s came from laying siege with a series of pick-and-goes at rucks on a day when the wider approach was mostly disregarded.
Despite a lion’s share of possession Heriot’s had their work cut out with centres Cammy Ferguson and Keith Buchan forced into some heavy duty tackling to contain a midfield in which Byron McGuigan, released from Glasgow, showed pace and penetration as when he intercepted near his own “22” to open the scoring after eight minutes.
“We could have done with retaining the ball a bit better in the first half and running through a few more phases to break them down.
“We were doing pretty well with hit-ups then we would lose possession which pretty much summed up our display.
“So much so that when we fell behind and penalties came away I grabbed the chance to chip away at Aberdeen’s lead to try and instil a bit of confidence and momentum.
“Fortunately we managed to get points on the board and scrape through,” said Wilson.
The turnovers were not all one way, though, and a key moment came under the Heriot’s posts when Jason Hill reacted brilliantly as the ball emerged from a ruck on the Aberdeen side to pounce and deny a near-certain score.
Heriot’s coach Phil Smith, who during an initial stint as coach in 2003 guided Heriot’s to a first-ever Cup triumph, reflected: “Perhaps losing the early intercept try affected us although I am not going to knock anybody for trying something different to break down their defence.
“We don’t restrict any of our players and if there was a feeling we could have scored if the pass hadn’t been intercepted that was fine.
“But it was a nervous performance by us. We played it tight in the hope of getting an advantage and when it didn’t come we panicked a wee bit.”
It took Heriot’s until the 37th minute to go ahead with former Aberdeen star Murray Douglas’ try but once 13-10 in front Byron McGuigan levelled early in the second half.
“I thought once Ben Toolis scored (58 minutes) we were favourites to get the next score and pull away,” added coach Smith.
“What happened was we not only lost possession in their half but momentum as well and the gap closed to four points with another penalty.
“Aberdeen were not really threatening our line but in the closing moments it did get a bit harum-scarum and I was thinking ‘please do not let Byron McGuigan get the ball in space’ as we were burst because of all the effort put in!”
Despite a hint of a late break-out by Aberdeen the gaps were sealed – just – allowing Heriot’s to hang on and complete a third victory of the season against the Dons, all by a single score margin.
“Cumbernauld here we come,” roared one of Heriot’s’ greatest players, Iain Milne, in a jocular reference to the fact that with Murrayfield’s playing surface being replaced the trophy encounter with Glasgow Hawks, conquerors of Gala in the other semi, will take place at Broadwood Stadium. Heriot’s only just made the date.
Aberdeen: Try: McGuigan. Conversion: Aloe. Penalties: Alloe (2), McGuigan.
Heriot’s: Tries: Douglas, Toolis. Conversions: Wilson (2). Penalties: Wilson (2).
Aberdeen Grammar FPs: S Aitken, E Oag, B McGuigan, W Wardlaw, A Rennie, R Aloe, M Ward, N Fraser, F Brown, S Cessford, A Cramond, J Metcalfe, G Ryan (captain), T Preece, T McGinness. Subs: M Cox, M Schosser, M McCall, S Knudsen, J Lauder, A Mackie, M Ryan.
Heriot’s: C Goudie, L Steele, K Buchan, C Ferguson, H Boisseau, R Carmichael, G Wilson, N Borel. K Bryce, S Mustard, R Nimmo. M Douglas, J Turley (captain), J Hill, C Mulligan. Subs: C Owenson, G Turner, B Toolis, J Maclean, J Syme, M Nimmo. O Brown.
Referee: J Matthew.